Hub centre – a brief history.

The Design – a brief history.

Hub center steering is not new, lets get that clear straight away.

The first designs put into production were in the 1920’s and was ironically made for women to use. Normal motorcycles of the time were really only bicycles with engines and so had a cross bar etc… Ladies who wanted to ride motorcycles were forced to dress like a man (not the done thing at all at that time). There was clearly a need for a “ladies motorcycle” that could be ridden in the full skirts of the time.

In response to this need Carl Neracher in 1918 came up with his NER A CAR design.

This did away with the cross bar and front forks. He therefore needed a new system to turn the front wheel. Hub center steering was born.

Hub center steering came and went over the next 50 years with every so often a designer showing his version or drawing of the idea. Forks by now had developed from straight bars (girder forks) to telescopic and although heavy and with many moving parts they became the normal fitment. Designers were directed into improving them. With the advent of the Japanese (early 1960s) motorcycle engines got faster and more reliable over a very short period. Chassis design struggled to keep up with this and the result was that 1970’s and 80s bikes are not renowned for their handling on the whole.

Many firms started up offering chassis helping aids or complete chassis. Harris, Moto Martin, Spondon etc…

But we are jumping ahead here though, lets go back a bit to 1967…

One man in his workshops in Frome Somerset thought the hub center steered idea was worth another visit and proceeded to make his ideas fit standard motorcycles of the time.

“Jack” Difazio fitted his first front road bike with his hub center steered front end in 1969.

Left – is the first rolling chassis with a 350cc single AJS motor. It wasn’t perfect but you have to start somewhere and this is the beginning of our modern tale.

Difazio built around 50 bikes in the 1970’s for the road and most survive. I first saw the designs in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as a budding new engineer and motorcyclist. Magazine articles told of no dive and superior suspension….I drew sketches and dreamed.

Several other designers picked up on the idea that forks were limited including Royce Creasy (who worked with Difazio for his own first project) , Tony foale, James Parker, Elf, John Brittan and loads more, but all had one thing in common. They were lone engineers or small companies and funds were tight.

Only the ELF project was truly pushed forward and was to a degree successful even at grand prix level but its single sided arm would always be too heavy and wide causing corner clearance issues. In the 1980’s when Elf pulled the plug on the race team the idea looked dead once more.

This is the Elf project race bike raced in the 1980’s by Ron Haslam. This is the Parker system NOT the Difazio design we use.

The Alto Performance Vyrus project evolved from the graduation work of two mechanical engineering students who, during the 1980’s, designed and developed a bike utilising
a front swing arm as the front suspension.

Bimota decided to commit major resources to the refinement of this project and hired the 2 young engineers. The end result was the Bimota Tesi 1D. The Ducati 851 engine produced good power for the time and the bike was raced by Alan Cathcart in the Bears series and was relatively successful BUT handling issues still existed and unfortunately some steering issues. There were simply too many joints to the steering and so did not “feel” connected to the front wheel. This lack of feel and a weight distribution problem made the bike “interesting” at high speed (Alan’s own words).

Bimota Tesi 1D undressed.

It was fast, powerful and handled well enough to win races, but before the bike could be developed further, Bimota ran into financial troubles and the company disappeared.

The next step…..

VDM (Vyrus), a small but innovative motorbike manufacturer based in Rimini and headed up by Ascanio Rodorigo, a former Bimota technician redesigned the bike around an air cooled Ducati engine and gave birth to the Bimota Tesi 2D bike in 2005 (the Bimota was a rebadged Vyrus made in the small workshop on the outskirts of Rimini).

An incredibly light machine built using the best quality, high-tech components.
This has now been brought back inside the Vyrus factory and together Alto performance and Vyrus agreed to go racing and push the design even further using modern technology.

In 2007 Alto performance brought back to their British workshops a basic rolling chassis which Brothers Ben and Aarron Shaughnessy spent 9 months solid building into a race bike using a Ducati ST2 engine. “We used the St2 motor because as it was out of a touring bike and we could never be accused of doing well just because of the engine. This was a proper test of the chassis design. We chose the British Thunderbike UK series because it was a  series where power is related to weight. We had already come 3rd in the series with our Laverda 750 race bike in 2007 so we figured if we could build the bike to be the same weight, with the same rider AND the same power then the results would be down to the chassis. A proper test back to back. Is the chassis better OR not!  3rd in the British Thunderbike uk series and several wins in our first year proved there was something to the design and we never did produce the same power as the Laverda. So we thought well this design really is worth trying harder with.

Time to move the design to the next stage….

For 2009 we fitted a more powerful ST3 engine and moved the weight around in the chassis following our discoveries on the track. We re-designed the chassis quite a bit to improve the way the bike worked as a race machine. By 2009 the bike was now mostly British built by us and using F1 suppliers and technology extensively to make the bike a better package and we decided to try again in the same series.

2009 was a fantastic year where we missed winning the Championship by a meager 11 points. An engine bearing failure and puncture denying us the crown.
2009 statistics :
27 races

19 podiums
11 wins
2 outright lap records

The statistics tell their own story. If we had not had 3 DNF finishes one for a puncture the championship might have been ours, but that’s racing. What it has shown is that the project is going in the right direction and that with modern materials and technology the design needs to be pushed further. If we can be competitive inside 2 years….what can we do with the 80 years fork development has had? Gets you thinking doesn’t it.


Where next?

We have proved the concept so where now?  We realised early in 2008 that the concept worked so brothers Aarron and Ben decided the plan would be in 3 stages.

Stage 1 : 2007 – 2010

Original bike which we have raced and proved successful. – this is now completed.  We have tons of data and experience with racing this bike and winning but its limits have been reached.  In 2010 the original bike was put “out to pasture”.   We decided it was not possible to update any further with out compromise so this bike is now…..a door stop!

We proceeded to design a new bike in 2010 and the plan was to build the new bike in 2011 but our mother became ill with cancer and both brothers decided to put the bike on ice untill this was beaten.    We are glad to announce our mother is one tough charachter (not surprising really) and is making a full recovery.

Stage 2 : 2012 – 2013/14

New bike (test bed) with more adjustment and with the chassis altered to include all the data we had collected from bike 1. This bike also has a lot more power and we expect this to test the chassis further. There is a new electronics package with a new style of traction control, and much more. Summary :

New chassis
New bigger power Ducati engine.
New electronics package.
New aero dynamics package.
This bike is 90% complete at the time of writing (September 2012). We will run this in 2013.

Stage 2 taking shape in our UK workshops.
Stage 3 : 2010 – 2014                                              You aint seen nothing yet!

This is a new concept entirely. We have been working actively on this project since 2010 and it is directly affected by the results of stage 2. Once stage 2 has given us some key information we can finalize the design and build the last bike.

Why not go straight to part 3 and correct issues after running? We think this might be very hit and miss. We might be lucky and get it nearly right straight off, but it is more likely the radical design we have in mind would have many issues that would compromise our potential. I might be an ok bike….not a great bike.

Cost is also an issue. If we can step carefully and methodically then we make less mistakes and waste less money. Important for a small team.
So what is the design and why is it radical ?

Just have to wait and see but the target is : 220bhp + and 130kg wet ready to race (possibly a lot less). We already know the engine is ok for this and the calculations say the chassis is bang on too.

Should be an interesting ride….keep watching.

Thank you to our mostly British based sponsors, who have continued to provided the worlds leading engineering and technology solutions, so we have the best possible chance to succeed.

Ben Shaughnessy, Alto performance racing


2008 – 2009 race bike Specifications :

With the 2008 – 9 bike we proved the technology worked and so we need to go to the next step with more power and change the chassis to include everything we have discovered.   The specification is for the 2008 – 2009 race bike ONLY.

  • Tyres – British superbike specification

Front : 125×50 x 17 Dunlop Ntec, Rear : 190 x 50 x 17 Dunlop Ntec

  • Wheels
    Front : Carbon fibre – Dymag special purpose made ultra light weight

Rear : Carbon fibre – Dymag special purpose made ultra light weight.

  • Wheel hubs
    Front : In house made (Alto) hub with various offsets. Rear : Standard bearing style set up.

Front Spindle
Alto made from Billet – EN24T

Bearings front hub
British made – size and type not disclosed.

  • Brakes
    Front : 2 x 300mm dia EBC specially made S drive disks with 6 pin drive 200grams per disk lighter than a normal disk.

Front callipers : Brembo 30/34 billet alloy EBC HH race pads (special backing material)

Rear : 1 x 220mm direct fitting EBC disk Rear calliper : Brembo 32 monoblock alloy EBC HH race pads

  • Front swingarm
    Alloy 7020 extrusion all welded side rails Alloy

End caps and frame mounts CNC machined 7020 Billet.

  • Rear Swingarm
    Alloy 7020 extrusion all welded. Foam filled
  • Front and rear subframes
    20x20mm alloy box section all welded.
  • Bodywork
    Full pre impregnated carbon fibre.
    Molds custom made including crash technology and shock absorbing ideas.
  • Fuel Tank   All alloy Alto performance custom made  10 – 13litres depending on race.